Sunday, March 16, 2008

NYT's John Burns’ Iraq War Assessment

People who should know tell me The New York Times’ John Burns is a great military reporter.

Today, with the 5th anniversary of the Iraq War at hand, Burns offers a detailed, poignant, informed and reflective description and assessment of the Iraq War. He concludes:

… For close to two years, the Shiite religious parties that won the December 2005 election have clung tenaciously to their new-found power, and the Sunni parties, mostly unreconciled to an Iraq ruled by Shiites, have maneuvered in ways intended to keep open the possibility, ultimately, of a Sunni restoration. Nothing, in short, has been settled.

Americans officials bridle at the failure to tackle decisively any of the issues they identified as crucial to “reconciliation,” including the critical issue of the future share of oil revenues. Meanwhile, the rival Iraqi blocs, taking the long view, look beyond the American occupation to a time when these central issues of power will be settled among themselves.

American hopes are that Iraqis, with enough American troops still present to stiffen the new Iraqi forces and prevent a slide backward toward all-out civil war, will ultimately tire of the violence in the way of other peoples who have been plunged into communal violence, as many Lebanese did during their 15-year civil war.

Those hopes have been buoyed by a reduction in violence in the last year that can been traced to the American troop increase and to the cooperation or quiescence of some previously militant groups, both Sunni and Shiite.

They are hopes shared by many ordinary Iraqis. Opinion polls, including those commissioned by the American command, have long suggested that a majority of Iraqis would like American troops withdrawn, but another lesson to be drawn from Saddam Hussein’s years is that any attempt to measure opinion in Iraq is fatally skewed by intimidation. More often than not, people tell pollsters and reporters what they think is safe, not necessarily what they believe.

My own experience, invariably, was that Iraqis I met who felt secure enough to speak with candor had an overwhelming desire to see American troops remain long enough to restore stability.

That sentiment is not one that many critics of the war in the United States seem willing to accept, but neither does it offer the glimmer of cheer that it might seem to offer to many supporters of the war. For it would be passing strange, after the years of unrelenting bloodshed, if Iraqis demanded anything else. It is small credit to the invasion, after all it has cost, that Iraqis should arrive at a point when all they want from America is a return to something, stability, that they had under Saddam.

For America, too, it is a deeply dispiriting prospect, promising no early end to the bleeding in Iraq.

Burns' entire article is here.

His accounts of the war’s human tragedies and policy mistakes are painful to read. But we need to know about them in order to assess what we’ve done in Iraq and what our future course there should be.

Burns’ article is an outstanding example of a journalist doing his duty to inform, often at great risk to himself.

He has my admiration and thanks. Be sure to read the article and let me know what you think.